From telehealth services to advanced tools for clinical trials, the impact of technology on medicine offers countless examples. Instead, the role played by tech in medicine’s close sibling, veterinary science, is often overlooked.
Innovation in animal health is a growing sector, not limited to its most obvious segments. Recently, the animal health market has moved beyond straight pharmaceuticals and vaccines, with investors pouring $154 million across 46 pet tech deals in 2016, according to CB Insights. Also, a recent report by the World Veterinary Association pointed out that there are diverse opportunities for the veterinary health sector to adopt new technologies, even mimicking the ones applied in medicine, from big data analytics tools to real-time communication between vets and owners.
Caring for the animals themselves, however, will always be part of any innovation effort— especially those that are an investment for owners, like horses.
Lowell-based startup, Horsepower Technologies, exemplifies local innovation where engineering intersects with veterinary science. Its team of nine people is developing and selling a $2,000 medical device that can help fight one of the most common soft-tissue injuries on the horses’ lower limbs: equine lameness—basically, the breakdown of tendons and ligaments in a horse’s lower limbs, which carry hundreds of pounds. The medical condition accounts for the greatest losses in the $50 billion horse industry: hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
“There’s an old saying in the horse world: it’s not if your horse is going to go lame, it’s when,” Mouli Ramani, CEO and president of Horsepower Technologies, said. “It’s basically the same thing that marathon runners may have.”
In the U.S., half of the country’s 9.2 million horses are used for sport purposes, including rodeo, racing, polo and dressage. When competition heats up, horses are at risk.
“Horses don’t naturally become lame,” Ramani pointed out. “These horses became lame because they work so hard… We overtrain them because we want them to win.”
Called Fast Track, the rehabilitative product that Horsepower launched on the market in July this year is something in between an artificial limb and a high-tech boot for horses. Made of aircraft-grade aluminum, it provides a structure that takes the weight off tendons and ligaments. Internally, the device molds into the horse’s leg and heats up to relieve the area. Moreover, a dial on the side of the device allows owners to change the degree of restriction of motion: horses that recently injured themselves can only walk, horses on the way to recovery can also, say, trot.
The company sells the product to vets, because using it requires a little bit of individual training.
Started as a nonprofit, Horsepower changed its status as a for-profit company at the beginning of 2017, after Ramani came on board as CEO to help organize the business. After raising a $5 million Series A last year, the company is getting ready to raise a Series B round to grow its team and invest in new product development, Ramani said.
The fact that the company was born in Massachusetts may be considered a curiosity, as the Commonwealth is not usually considered a hub of for the equine industry. National ‘horse capitals,’ Ramani said, are Lexington, Ky and Wellington, Fla.
“Paradoxically, the fact that I wasn’t a horse person allowed me see this as engineering problem,” Ramani said.